head with elongated earlobes; downcast eyes; headdress with scrolls, tassels and floral forms, with pair of ornaments on either side with three red balls on blue drops; traces of blue pigment at hairline; traces of red pigment on lips; traces of olive-colored patina on skin of face; red, green and blue pigment on headdress; received attached to rectangular black base

Head of a Bodhisattva, late 6th century

Unknown artist, expand_more
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2017 Accession Highlight

This sculpture was originally the head of a standing figure of a bodhisattva—a being who has forestalled its own passage to nirvana in order to guide others to salvation. Carved fully in the round, with a serene expression and gracefully curved downcast eyes, it wears an elaborate crown that is secured by knotted ribbons that hang down behind its ears. These characteristic knots of scarves help date the sculpture to the Sui dynasty. The figure represents some important changes in Buddhist art in China. It exhibits a new fashion for elaboration and ornament that emerged at this time. It also demonstrates a contemporary trend to create freestanding sculptures rather than high reliefs in cave temples or on complex stele (upright slabs).

In recent years, Mia’s collection of early Chinese Buddhist sculptures dating from the Northern dynasties to the Song dynasty has grown rapidly. We have representative sculptures of Buddha and bodhisattva heads dating from Northern Qi (550–77), Tang (618–907), and Song (960–1279) periods. The present work, a masterpiece carved in the Sui dynasty (581–618), bridges a gap between the Northern dynasties and Tang, and therefore is an extremely welcome addition to the collection.

head with elongated earlobes; downcast eyes; headdress with scrolls, tassels and floral forms, with pair of ornaments on either side with three red balls on blue drops; traces of blue pigment at hairline; traces of red pigment on lips; traces of olive-colored patina on skin of face; red, green and blue pigment on headdress; received attached to rectangular black base